AHRC Research Centre for Studies in Intellectual Property and Technology Law

Project Details


The Centre's research themes examined the synergies between intellectual property law, information technology law including media law, and medical law & ethics.

Its remit was to consider the relationship between law, policy and emerging technologies in the broadest sense. The central research question is: how best can law be deployed in rising to new scientific, cultural and technological challenges? Specific studies are used to explore the interaction of four overarching parameters: regulation and trust and openness and secrecy.

Layman's description

Scientific progress is both exhilarating and frightening, offers chances and creates dangers, and can change our lies for better or worse. Facebook changes the way we relate to our friends and can break up the isolation of many people - but also poses the danger that criminals steal our data and harm us. Genetics can help us cure debilitating diseases - or give large companies power over the worlds crop production. Everyone can be an artist on Youtube - and through a careless video cause violence in other countries, or harm the music industry in his own. We pay with our data for many of the services we take for granted on-line - but who collects it, and can we trust them? In situations of massive uncertainty like these, citizens and governments often ask for the law to step in and protect the innocent and punish the guilty. But can law do this? How can a discipline, steeped in tradition going back for centuries, with its often arcane ceremonies and symbols, hope to address issues that are at the very cutting edge of change? What does the average judge know about the way in which teenagers exchange music on peer-to-peer networks? What do MPs, asked to regulate, really understand about neuroscience and its dangers and potentials? We know from experience that legal responses often fail when trying to regulate science and technology. They are often hasty, ill thought through and punitive reactions to the latest high profile scandal. Or they are slow, deliberate and well thought through pieces of legislation - which only come into force when the problem has resolved itself through further scientific progress.
The Centre explored ways that law can respond better. How can we anticipate faster, more accurately and more equitably the need for legal intervention caused by scientific discoveries? How can we assist lawmakers and judges better, through training or advice, to cope efficiently with new problems caused by scientific progress? How can we use old and new legal concepts in more creative ways to release the economic and social potential of new sciences, while at the same time curbing the excesses and minimising the dangers? Law has to play a role in this task, but maybe a more limited and cautious role than often thought. We looked at new ways to use old legal ideas, but also alternatives to formal legal regulation. Is it better to threaten companies with fines or prison for misusing our data, acting only when the horse has left the stable, or can we prevent through better design of technologies misuse from the beginning? Should we frighten teenagers with copyright lawsuits for downloading clips or nudge them towards responsible use out of their own volition?

Key findings

There are clear limitations in the use of formal legislation to regulate the rapidly evolving technological landscape. Legislation is often "too much too late", involving highly punitive responses to the latest moral panic, which often does little to achieve the protection of key values and can stymie responsible technological development and growth by protecting antiquated business models. Certain interests - such as these of developing countries, SMEs and, in some cases, consumers - are systematically sidelined in these developments. Certain less obvious legal concepts that are in principle available to address these deficits are underused in favour of ideas from traditional criminal and IP law. To address these shortcomings, we have developed new forms of interaction between lawyers, scientists and policy makers and contributed to a more holistic approach of co-regulation that changes behaviour through a mixture of economic incentives, technological architecture, training/education and formal legislation using traditional legal ideas more creatively. We have demonstrated that the Internet, just as science in general as a global communications space, is a self-organising entity that has proven problematic for regulators, and that in order to regulate them, we must first understand how networks of this type operate.
Case studies in copyright policy, peer-production and cyber crime, providing in-depth analyses of the challenges posed by the science and technology's complex dynamic networks. We developed new approaches and solutions were developed for specific problems and case studies such as trusted computing, medical databases, neuroimaging, open source licensing, and online behavioural advertising.
More specifically, we
- took a new approach to "foresighting" that facilitates risk assessment for emerging technologies and identifies regulatory gaps and shortcomings
- demonstrated key legal concepts that can be represented computationally to contribute to regulation through architecture and facilitate e.g. "privacy through design"
- showed how synergies between often underused legal concepts from human rights law, competition law, and tort law (reliance liability) can be used to give voice to often silenced interests and balance better and in democratically more accountable ways the various interests that scientific developments touch upon.
- showed how co-regulation in the media sector can be reformed, with specific reference to professional regulation and the demise of the Press Complaints Committee in the UK to ensure coherence and effectiveness of regulation in the
media sector in the light of convergence and the challenges that face states
in seeking to promote a plural and diverse media environment
- identified problems with reliance on the concept of "informed consent" in medical law and technology law, and suggested way s in which this abstract idea can be enriched in a co-regulatory model
- demonstrated the potential of open source and open access models, and contributed to legal tools that make them more robust
- developed new forms to communicate key scientific ideas to lawyers, and new methods to explain legal issues pertaining to technology regulation to scientists, software developers and the wider public. These methods involved also interaction with artists, authors of literary works including comic books, and people from the fields of popular culture to develop communication channels that go "beyond text".
Together, these approaches can rebalance the interests and value commitments of various stakeholders, with an overarching metric of reducing where possible regulation while enhancing trust, and maximising openness while protecting secrecy, when and only when necessary, better.
Effective start/end date1/04/0730/06/12


  • AHRC: £2,095,452.00


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